(Or, “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0”)

Thomas Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog”

Recently I’ve been talking with my friends about an idea that business guru Guy Kawasaki has been at the forefront of for many years, the idea of “product evangelism” or utilizing your biggest supporters to positively promote a product or organization (i.e. Apple’s iCabal).

Following up on this thought, you should look at how to develop your company’s/industry’s supporters into a cohesive “pack” (for lack of a better word) that is willing to support and defend your company.  Non-profit coalitions have been doing this for quite a while, and businesses can learn quite a bit from these organizations.  Many non-profits, if not almost all of them, have spent decades doing more with less when it comes to communications and coalition-building.  What these groups lacked in financial strength, they made up for in passion, perseverance, strategy and volunteerism.

What social media tools then did was lower the bar for strong content creation by these groups.  Once the bar was lowered these groups were able to produce their message cheaper and for a potentially larger audience.  This content creation then works hand-in-hand with social networking to build a larger base of volunteers, or as they tend to be called in a business setting, “evangelists.”

I call this idea “Darwin’s Bulldog 2.0″. (but I didn’t create this idea, it’s been out there for a while, but I wanted to look at how to use evangelists to passionately support and bolster your organization.)  A quick history lesson for y’all:

Thomas Huxley was a 19th century biologist from England.  He was a fierce proponent of this burgeoning scientific theory called “evolution” at a time when evolution was still being derided by many intellectual elites in England.  It was because of this devotion to his cause that he became known as “Darwin’s Bulldog.”

Huxley was groomed by Darwin and for a time became the face of public debate in favor of evolution.  He was known for his spirited debate about evolution with Samuel Wilberforce in 1860.  After this debate he served notice to the forces of traditional orthodoxy that evolution would not be easily pushed aside.  He stood in the face of this adversity for much of his career after the Wilberforce debate, giving as good as he got.

What does this have to do with public relations in the Web 2.0 world?  Quite a bit actually, especially when you advocate for your position or organization.

You can see much of the same kind of fervor online today, usually in political partisans (see Hugh Hewitt, Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos, Eschaton, etc.)  since blogging entered the political realm back in the wee early 2000s.

While not all organizations or industries would need someone to vigorously defend them, as your organization moves into the social media realm, or develops a social network of allies (on Facebook or Ning, which I recommend) you can start to “feel out” if there are any of your online evangelists that could/would serve as your fervent supporters or defenders.

Trying to put together a “viral” social media campaign will not be successful without some level of separate, independent evangelism from your supporters.  (see “Walmarting Across America” or the definition of “greenwashing.”) This is where working with Ning, Awareness Inc., a site like My Barack Obama, or Facebook can help with creating a community for your supporters.  Giving them a chance to interact with each other, sharing and improving on ideas for your organization or product.

Suffice it to say, you will need to monitor and nurture this potentially burgeoning community.  As your community grows, you’ll get opponents signing on to keep track of what your organization is doing, and potentially flaming your community and sabotaging your efforts in growing the community.  You need to have a member of your social media team, probably one of your bloggers (if you have the luxury of hiring more than one person to take care of your social media creation needs) also oversee the community and interact with your evangelists in it.  Check out Dell’s IdeaStorm site for ideas to build on.

It’s important that these people be organically independent of your business.  You don’t want to be caught in the position of “paying” for support,” and the following blogstorm that will ensue. (see “Walmarting Across America” for an example of what not to do)

If your evangelists do work for your organization, they have to be up front about it – and then go the extra steps to prove that they mean what they advocate, and aren’t just cashing a paycheck. As long as they own up to working for the company, they aren’t disqualified for representing their company with passion.

To my PR readers out there, what do you think?  Should your organization have a “bulldog,” someone who is out there passionately defending your brand?  What do you think the downside is?  Can they be seen as a “loose cannon” who can do more damage to your brand?  Should you let one of your internal defenders speak out for you, or do you think that will cause more damage to your organization’s brand?

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